So it’s been snowing again…Is it just me or does this happen every year? Here in the UK we’ve done our usual thing and panicked. Of course what we really need is a home-working strategy so that most of us don’t have to make the difficult journey into work. Nick Cavalancia, Vice President of Windows Management at ScriptLogic has written a guest blog post for us on how businesses need to provide more support for remote workers – especially as the snow will hit the transport in and around London in the final working days of this year. He discusses the Microsoft solutions that are out there.
The benefits of remote working need to be highlighted to businesses this winter as we are set for another productivity-stopping snowstorm in the UK. Last winter, according to government estimations, only 1 in 5 workers could get to work, costing businesses productivity and money as employees were stranded at home.
It is crucial that remote workers stay productive and have access to information to conduct normal business, but this should not be to the detriment of the company’s security.
An essential part of creating an effective home-working environment is having the right software solutions in place where employees stay productive and secure. The following tips can help any IT administrator ensure that workings are “online” even when they are in the office:
Keeping Employees Productive
A range of commonly-used Microsoft technologies exist to deliver applications to remote workers, and usually a combination of technologies including Virtual Private Networks, Microsoft Terminal Server (in the process of being renamed as “Remote Desktop Services” in Windows Server 2008 R2), Outlook Anywhere and Outlook Web Access. Which of these technologies is selected by the organisation depends on the blend of security and data portability it wants to provide to the user. Another major consideration for home workers is how the organisation will support them when they encounter problems. “Free” solutions generally rely on the user having an established VPN connection, or require that the administrator takes control of the end user’s screen to resolve the issue.
The inability to access pertinent company information or applications while working remotely destroys a worker’s productivity. In order to ensure that remote workers have access to a standardized network environment and the information they need to be productive, IT administrators are encouraged to adopt third-party tools to support remote management of workers’ desktops, regardless of whether the user or the administrator is part of a managed domain. Not only does an advanced remote support solution increase end-user productivity, but it also provides significant time savings for administrators through faster problem resolution.
With the best remote support solutions, IT administrators can troubleshoot a user’s PC within seconds from any location, taking advantage of diagnostic tools and performance information without interrupting the user’s work or taking control of their screen. Advanced remote support software eliminates the need for remote users to spend a lot of time describing unexpected behaviour, or have an administrator physically visit their PC.
Keep Data Safe
In organisations which handle sensitive data, employees working from home often have access to large amounts of confidential or personal data, such as customer bank account numbers, patients’ medical records or internal account information. This puts companies at risk of a potential data breach or privacy law infringement. A common scenario is that of workers taking data home on USB storage devices, which are easily misplaced.
To control this risk, IT administrators should consider a solution that places removable storage security policies on corporate laptops and home PCs. A good solution installs a software agent and per-user security policy on each device, providing granular control of USB ports and all other removable storage devices, so privilege employees can be given less restricted access than those who have no need to take data off the network.
Another common requirement is for control over which types or classes of USB device are allowed to connect, based on the device ID or even serial number. For example, if an organisation issues biometrically secured and encrypted USB drives to its workers, it will want to ensure that no other device is used, which requires a strong restrictive policy. And for some types of device (e.g. DVD-ROM drives), the administrator might want to provide read but not write access for non-privileged users.
Respect Employee Privacy
While remote management of a user’s personal computers is necessary for employee productivity, businesses could face legal trouble if they overstep the privacy boundary. When accessing a home worker’s computer, especially if it is used for both personal use as well as business, laws restrict administrators from looking at users’ personal applications and data. Business need to carefully consider the extent to which users are allowed to use non-company-supplied IT hardware for working from home. Remote desktop access through Terminal Server or Virtual Desktops might be one way to address the challenge of providing access without exposing data.